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Given the following: (note please feel free to argue with any of these premises, but please also cite a source)

  1. t'chias hamasim will only occur for the righteous
  2. the righteous who are currently dead are enjoying eternal reward in olam haba (or possibly gan eden)
  3. the reward of olam haba is greater than any reward that can exist in our physical world
  4. during the time of t'chias hamasim one cannot receive reward for performing mitzvos because the reality of God's sovereignty will be totally apparent to all (thus annulling free choice).

How do we understand the purpose of t'chias hamasim? Why does it need to occur?

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Sources for the premises would be valuable. – msh210 Feb 24 '12 at 19:13
In fact, point #1 seems to be contradicted by Dan. 12:2: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence." – Alex Feb 24 '12 at 22:09
..and point #3 is not agreed upon by everyone. Perhaps a source? – HodofHod May 7 '12 at 15:28
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The Ramchal in Maamar HaIkrim says that everyone will get up for Techiyas HhaMeisim. This will be the time of final punishment and reward.

רמח"ל, מאמר העיקרים

והנה בתחיה יקומו צדיקים ורשעים, והרשעים שחטאו ולא נשלם בהם העונש הראוי, יענשו אז כראוי להם. ואמנם אחרי התחיה יהיה יום הדין הגדול, שידין הבורא ית' את כלם, וישפוט הראויים לישאר לנצחיות והראויים ליאבד. הראויים ליאבד יענשו לפי מה שראוי להם ולבסוף יאבדו לגמרי, והראויים לישאר ישארו, במדרגה שתגיע להם כפי המשפט, בעולם שיחודש.‏

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Good point, the Ramban in Sha'ar HaGemul says something similar, to paraphrase at some post Moshiach time there will be a "Yom HaDin HaGadol V'haNorah" at which time everyone will be judged once again. But I believe that is separate than t'chias hamaeisim, because otherwise the question would be why do people need to get up again in order to be judged. – none Feb 24 '12 at 17:55
The words of the Ramchal is V'Hinei B'Techiya Yakumu - which means that at Techiyas haMeisim will get up.......... – Gershon Gold Feb 24 '12 at 17:57
+1 for bringing the Ramhal – Hacham Gabriel Feb 24 '12 at 17:58

This article on Chabad.org gives a couple of explanations.

For one thing, the performance of mitzvos (and, G-d forbid, the commission of aveiros) was a joint effort of body and soul. The soul receives its reward or punishment in Gan Eden, but the body needs to get its due too.

Another idea, found in Chabad Chassidus (see Tanya, Iggeres Hakodesh 20), is that the physical world is actually the deepest and truest expression of G-d's existence and His power. Therefore, the ultimate perfection of the era of Moshiach demands that there be a time when the physical world, and the body of which it is a microcosm, expresses this openly.

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With regard to number 4., Rav Sa'adia Gaon would not agree:

Our reply, agian, to the question that might be asked as to whether those to be resurrected will receive any reward for the services they will render to G-d at the time of the redemption is: "Yes," just as reason demands that those who are destined to live in the world of retribution receive reward for the services they will perform in the world to come. This reward will constitute an addition that they will receive over and above what they have earned by virtue of their previous conduct. Now their is no hesitancy about asserting that there is such thing as the performance of service to G-d. Why, then, should there be such hesitancy about declaring that there is in the world to come such a thing as earning of reward. (Book of Belief and Opinions, Rosenblatt translation, pages 287-288)

Nevertheless his continuation sheds light on your question, more specifically it explains why there is a resurrection when there will be 'Olam Haba afterward. In addressing the question about those who lived during the redemption (i.e. after techias hameisim) and whether they die,

the only reason why those members of the Jewish nation that had died had bee promised resurrection was in order that they might witness the redemption. Those, however, who will be alive when it occus, will have seen it in their lifetime. There would, therefore, be no need of bringing them back to life [except] at the time of the world to come. (ibid)

While I doubt this opinion exhausts the discussion of this topic, it certainly is a major component.

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@GershonGold's answer quoting Ramchal follows the Ramban-like view, as @Moshe noted, that the Resurrection is a necessary part of the process of "the final judgement". I would like to offer an answer that does not follow this view:

Just to mention the more non-traditional ways of approaching this problem, I know of two:

  1. R' Yitzchak Arama (Akeidas Yitzchak, shaar 6) feels that the terms t'chiyas hameisim and olam habah are in fact synonymous, both referring to the eternity of the soul in the non-physical world. Thus, there is no such thing as a "physical" resurrection of the dead.
  2. Following what he believes to be Rambam's approach, R' Yosef Kafih writes that t'chiyas hameisim involves the resurrection of the body alone, while the soul remains in its eternal rest of olam habah.

However, realize that your question involves another assumption: that the resurrection is for the benefit of those being resurrected. Upon this the question falls that this cannot possibly be beneficial to them.

For this reason, I prefer (as usual) the approach of R' Yitzchak Abarbanel (Maayanei Hayeshua 11:9) who denies the above assumption (although not entirely). He writes that only the great leaders of the previous generations will be resurrected, whether they be the former righteous leaders of the Jews or other nations, or the former evil leaders and persecutors of the Jews. The purpose of this is "יַכִּירוּ וְיֵדְעוּ כָּל יושְׁבֵי תֵבֵל... וִיקַבְּלוּ כֻלָּם אֶת על מַלְכוּתֶךָ" - so that the great leaders of history can testify to God's greatness and universal sovereignty, and the entire global population will follow the Jews in serving Him.

Thus, it is not necessarily for the benefit of the dead that they are being resurrected, but rather for the benefit of the living population, even though the dead would be better off staying that way (the righteous ones, at least). Also, Abarbanel disagrees with your premises (1) and (4) above. The former as already noted, and the latter in that free choice is never annulled. In fact, free choice is what makes human souls Godly to begin with, a property for which it would be ironic if it were taken away during an era we identify as ideal.

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